Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Musings on values and world views

I spent today at an event hosted by the fantastic Forum for the Future, which featured a truly inspiring session on the significance of World views. A key takeaway was that while many of the CSR concepts like social justice gain general agreement, different points of view about the detail lead to uncertainty and conflict.

Arriving home, I was greeted with a request from my 11-year old son to help him with his homework. Coincidentally, he had been asked to present me with three views held by him that we were to debate. Rather touchingly, his views were:

There is no excuse for war
Everything is limitless
Every living thing is equal

Initially, I had no problem agreeing to the first one - but there followed an interesting debate on whether retaliating to an attack constitutes a state of war if you do no more than defend yourself. I felt that if active defence was acceptable, this view might be more accurately defined as "there is no excuse for aggression", but my son held that the term war applied only to an act of attack.

I took issue with the view "everything is limitless"; I am acutely aware that the resources of our planet are limited and that we are consuming beyond those limits. It turns out that my son's view is that the cosmos is limitless and that more planets probably exist, maybe in different dimensions, that could meet our needs. Perhaps, but who is to say that a) we will discover them in time and that b) they won't contain people who need our resources to make up for limitations in their own.

We struggled quite a lot with "every living thing is equal". In general terms it seems reasonable, but delving into the detail caused quite a few disagreements. We explored dilemmas around choosing whether to save an animal or a human from danger, and my son modified his view to "every living thing has an equal right to life". This, he felt, made a distinction between the right to kill something because it's not human and the right to prioritise saving a human life over the life of another species. Then I introduced the example of a mosquito infested swamp next to a village, where children were dying from malaria - would it be acceptable to eliminate the mosquitoes? Sadly, it was bedtime so we never really resolved this one. But it's reassuring to see that at 11 my son is already wrestling with some of the moral issues that my generation has failed to get to grips with.

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